Sheridan County emergency management promotes flood preparation
SHERIDAN – When plenty of snowfall and rising temperatures meet, the risk of flooding increases. While there is little that can be done in the way of preventing nature’s calling, precautionary measures can help to decrease the damage experienced by nearby residents.
The 2023 Sheridan County snowpack report completed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicates snow-water content in Bighorn Mountain snowpack is above median this year, meaning Sheridan County could be at an increased risk of experiencing flooding this spring, Natural Resources Conservation District Specialist Andrew Cassiday said.
“[Flooding is] most likely when the snowpack is high because there’s more water sitting at the top of the mountain waiting to come down, but it is also very dependent on how that melt occurs,” Cassiday said. “If the melt occurs slow and steady as we get milder, but not hot, temperatures and as precipitation comes in the form of snow up at those elevations, then it’ll occur slow and steady and we’ll get a spring rise in stream levels, but we won’t exceed… the stream flow that maintains the active channel but isn’t out of banks and it isn’t doing lots of crazy erosion.
“The alternative scenario is, if we get a snowmelt that occurs very quickly, either because of sudden high temperatures or we end up with rain or snow which causes the snowpack to melt very quickly and cause exceptionally high runoffs, those are the scenarios where we are most likely to see flooding,” Cassiday continued.
Sheridan County Emergency Management Coordinator Jesse Ludikhuize said weather conditions in the coming weeks will determine whether it might flood.
“The biggest concern is if it starts to rain up in the mountains and there’s still a lot of snow up there, that will cause the snow to melt very quickly, which can cause significant flooding,” Ludikhuize said. “It really is all dependent on the weather going forward. If we’ll have a bad season or a good season, we’re not sure.”
In the event of flooding, Ludikhuize said the highest risk areas of town are those low-lying along the creeks; Big Goose, Little Goose and Goose Creek are all common areas that face the worst of the flooding. The emergency management office monitors those areas with stream gauges so flood warnings can be issued as timely as possible, allowing residents to prepare.
“If there’s flooding that takes place, it can damage residential structures and it can flip and cause damage to basements and foundations,” Ludikhuize said. “If water penetrates a structure, it can cause mold issues that can damage those properties.”
Flooding can wreak havoc on more than just structures, Ludikhuize said. It can pose a threat to nearby pastures and the livestock and feed within them, as well as roadways.
While some may feel as though a few inches of water on a roadway would still be safe to drive through, Ludikhuize said a few inches of water is all it takes to potentially sweep away a vehicle.
“If somebody sees flood waters that are running over a roadway, it’s advised to turn around and go a different direction to find a path around that roadway,” Ludikhuize said. “It’s very rare that we’ll actually close a roadway because we hope that people use their own common sense when it comes to crossing that type of water, but we don’t want people to cross it if they can avoid any flooded roadways and just drive around.”
While little can be done in the way of preventing a flood, precautionary measures can help to temper the potential damages.
Sandbags can stop or slow the flow of water from reaching structures and seeping into basements or foundations and the relocation of cattle and feed can help to keep livestock safe from rising waters.
“Like a lot of things in nature, I think the biggest key is to be aware, to assess your risk and to have a plan,” Cassiday said. “If you live in an area where your home or critical elements in your life, be it infrastructure, that sort of thing is at risk, to assess what the risk is and how you’re going to deal with it… If we suddenly go to 80 degrees here in the next few weeks, be aware that the low elevation places might see some flooding.
“It’s always a little interesting to me that in that scenario where we’ve got high temperatures, there’s a lag time. The high temperature for the day occurs at maybe 3:00 p.m. and the peak stream flow is 8 or 10 or 12 hours after that. I think that’s something to be aware of, that when you get home in the evening on a hot day or when we get a rain-on-snow event, the river may not be high, but by midnight it might be,” Cassiday continued.
For this purpose, Sheridan County Emergency Management provides sand, sandbags and locations to fill them. Sandbags can be filled at the Sheridan City Service Center, the Sheridan County Fairgrounds, the Story and Big Horn fire halls and the Dayton town shop, to name a few. Self-fill tips and more information on filling locations can be found online at sheridancounty.com.
Sheridan County Emergency Management will be hosting an event April 22 from 9-11 a.m. for volunteers to fill sandbags.
“We know that sometimes it’s difficult for elderly people to fill sandbags on their own,” Ludikhuize said. “If anybody wants to come and volunteer and fill some sandbags, if they bring shovels and gloves up to the fairgrounds. We’re happy to take whatever help we can get and we’ll spend a couple hours filling sandbags for people that may need them. That way, they’re ready to go.”